Fire Scout UAV Prepares for LCS
Leslie Smith, vice president for tactical autonomous systems at Northrop Grumman, says the testing is designed specifically for the LCS, to operate with the vehicle’s wind envelope and provide accurate performance specifications.
NAVAIR Fire Scout program manager Captain Jeff Dodge, U.S. Navy, said, “MQ-8C is meeting all of its performance objectives. We are looking forward to the MQ-8C operational testing and deployment as a part of surface warfare mission packages.”
The helicopter-look-alike Charlie is just over 41 feet long and 10 feet high, weighs 6,000 pounds with a full fuel load, and is able to carry a 500-pound internal payload or a 2,650-pound external (sling) load. The aircraft is powered by a Rolls-Royce 25-C47E engine, which turns a four-bladed rotor. The Charlie has a maximum speed of 135 knots, a mission range of over 1,200 miles, a ceiling of 16,000 feet, and can stay airborne for up to 12 hours. Built on the Bell 407 helicopter airframe, the Charlie is an upgrade to the smaller Fire Scout “Bravo” variant, which is about 24 feet long and can carry a 300-pound payload. The Bravo’s range is roughly half that of the Charlie.
The USS Coronado (LCS-4) currently is operating two MQ-8Bs with an MH-60 helicopter to test the unmanned/manned pairing to provide situational awareness.
A single Fire Scout Bravo deployed on board the Fort Worth (LCS-3) to the western Pacific in 2015. In December 2014, a Bravo launched from the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750) in a demonstration arranged by the U.S. Coast Guard and NAVAIR.
Northrop Grumman’s Smith said that the early Fire Scout “A” variant quickly evolved into the “B.” Northrop Grumman built the first MQ-8B airframes in 2006, and the vehicle first flew at Patuxent River, Maryland, late that year. The company and NAVAIR worked as partners to develop the “C” in the 2012 timeframe. “We recognized that the system would provide critical ISR—and that we could innovate and use a larger airframe that gave us more endurance, more range, and more payload,” she added.
For the ISR mission, the Bravos are fitted with an electro-optical/infrared sensor, laser rangefinder/illuminator, and maritime radar. The Navy plans to field both Bravos and Charlies on board the LCSs. Smith says the company has delivered 23 “Bs” and 19 “Cs” and is on contract to build 11 more “Cs” over the next two years. The Charlies now are equipped with an EO/IR sensor, but will be getting a high-frequency active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar—designated “Osprey”—built by Leonardo. The company says the Osprey radar is capable of a 240-degree instantaneous field of view and will provide weather surveillance, air-to-air targeting, and a ground moving target indicator. The AESA, Smith says, will extend situational awareness for ships operating the Charlies from tens of miles to hundreds of miles.
NAVAIR has evaluated the feasibility of arming the Fire Scout, possibly with a lightweight compact weapon for use against submarines. Northrop Grumman is working to integrate the AESA radar with the MQ-8C, which is expected to start joining the fleet as the radar reaches its initial operational capability in 2020.
Mr. Walsh is a veteran reporter of Navy and Marine Corps news and former editor of Naval Systems Update.
This article appeared originally at U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings Magazine.